After the failed attempt at walking the Mini Cateran Trail the previous week, we decided to give it another go last weekend, as the forecast was looking much better.
The plan was very similar this time to the previous attempt. I’d walk the first day myself, from Kirkmichael to Spittal of Glenshee, where I’d meet Janie (who had family commitments on the Saturday and was unable to join me then), stay overnight at Spittal, then walk the second part of the Mini Trail together on the Sunday. The difference this time was that we’d camp out overnight, rather than stay at the Spittal Hotel.
I’ll not concentrate too much on the first day’s walking, as the majority of that was covered in my previous post. The weather was very similar on Saturday, being quite overcast, but dry. It was, however, much windier.The highlight for the walk this time was on the woodland section between Kirkmichael and Enochdhu. As I was walking along, I saw a small mammal with a creamy white tail cross the path about 30 feet in front of me – a Red Squirrel! It quickly climbed up a tree, but it turns out the tree was already occupied, and the occupant wasn’t too pleased to have the company. A chase ensued, which I just stood and watched. In total, there were 4 Red Squirrels, all chasing each other around. Eventually, things calmed down a bit, and they all went their own separate ways. I was lucky, in the sense that one of them decided it had a bit of a hankering for a pine cone no more than 15 feet from me – so I managed to get the photo below. It’s just a shame that it’s so dark underneath the trees, as it was a struggle to get the photo sharp.
In terms of wildlife, that was, without a doubt, the highlight of the whole walk for me. On the first day, there wasn’t as much to see as the previous time – mainly due to the strong winds.
The scenery was just as stunning the second time round, though, even with the dark, brooding clouds threatening!
The other noteworthy aspect to the Saturday was the Upper Lunch Hut. Someone had been along in the past couple of days before, with fruit. People really need to learn that leaving banana and orange peel behind really isn’t a good thing. These take years to break down properly. I left a message in the visitor book, requesting that people take their rubbish away with them in future. Sadly, as I didn’t have an empty bag for the rubbish, I wasn’t really in a position to remove it myself.
As there was a chance that Janie was going to be arriving on the Sunday morning, as opposed to the Saturday night, I’d packed the Scarp, just in case. She was going to come along with the Banshee in the evening.
As it was still blowing a bit of a gale, I decided to erect the Scarp with the crossing poles, so that I could get somewhere nice and warm to relax while I cooked my evening meal and waited for Janie to arrive.
It also gave me a proper chance to test my Clikstand stove, as well as the home-made dehydrated meals I’d been making. I have to admit, I was impressed with both of them. The Clikstand works so well with my Alpkit MyTiPot (minus the handle, which is awful – I use an MSR LiteLifter to grip the pot) and the meal tasted pretty good (though I am biased!)
Janie arrived at about 9:30pm, so we set up the Banshee in the dark, used the Scarp for storage, then went to bed.
We woke on the Sunday morning to an absolutely glorious day. The sun had just come up, and was providing a fair bit of warmth. It was still windy, but nowhere near as bad as it had been on the Saturday, and the relatively clear skies more than compensated for that!
After a quick breakfast of porridge and a cup of tea, we packed up all the gear, and headed on our way.
What a difference a week makes!
The path was dry, most of the puddles had dried up, and the walking was relatively easy. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely a few boggy sections, still, but they were significantly more manageable. We did come across a couple of sections which were really boggy, and would have been near impassible the week before, but in general, the walking was significantly easier.
It meant that in general, we could pay attention to the scenery, rather than constantly looking at where our feet were – definitely a good thing!
Although the first part of the walk is more or less parallel with the A93, it didn’t intrude on you (unless a motorcyclist was going past at speed, which happened a fair bit!), and it didn’t really affect the views, either.
The first half of the walk on the Sunday follows farm tracks most of the way, and was relatively pleasant. There were a few places where the path diverts a fair bit around farm buildings, or outdoors centres, but in general, it was pretty straightforward. A word of warning, though. I know a lot of people who are more than a little uneasy about walking through fields with cattle in them. If you are, then this walk might not be for you.
The path was, at this point, very well waymarked. In fact, every part that was on the main Cateran Trail was exceptionally well waymarked. You’d be unlikely to get lost when walking the Cateran Trail. The bridges are well built the (many!) styles are well made – in all, the trail seems well maintained.
We reached the half way point of Dalnaglar castle at about 1pm, so we stopped for a bit of lunch at the side of the road. I reckon they’ve missed a bit of a trick here, it has to be said. I suspect most people will stop for lunch in this area, but the castle itself isn’t open to visitors, there’s no tearooms, etc or anything like that in the nearby village of Lair, either. I reckon if the Cateran Trail becomes popular, it would be a potential money earner. Still, as it stands, I suspect there’s not enough people walking the trail to make it financially viable.
Now… this is where the walk gets a bit more ‘interesting’.
After the castle, you walk along a bit of tarmac road until you come to a junction. Go left and you’ll continue on the Cateran Trail towards Glen Isla, go right and you’ll go to the village of Lair, and the Mini Trail route back to Kirkmichael.This is where the waymarking effectively ends. If you’re doing the Mini Trail, you’re more or less on your own at this stage.
You can’t really get lost following the route down to the village – it’s a road, after all! However, once you cross the A93, it becomes a different story.
First of all, the crossing of the main road itself. The location for this really isn’t the best. You’re basically crossing the road at a point between two blind bends. Luckily, the road isn’t that busy, but I’d definitely not have liked to have met a vehicle when crossing!
The photo above shows the crossing – you walk up the little road junction to the right, and if you look closely at the picture, you can see the people who have just made the crossing on the left (a group of 4 people walking the same route as us – but starting from Spittal, instead of Kirkmichael. This was their first day)
Having made the crossing, this is where the path gets… interesting.
The path is an old Right of Way between Lair and Kirkmichael, and I think it’s fair to say it’s not used much. In fact, the term ‘path’ in itself is a bit optimistic in places! There are posts used as waymarkers, to point out where the path is, but sometimes these can be hard to find (the other group missed a couple completely, and tried to make their own route), and the path itself, well, it was non-existant in so many places.
The path was like this for the first mile or so, and the walking was really hard going. We spent a lot of time trying to work our way through patches of heather, across boggy ground, etc, hunting for signs of the path. Had the weather been poor, and the visibility reduced, this would have been downright dangerous.
We met up with the other group having a rest break once the path had become clearer, and we all agreed that the walking was simply awful. I think Janie was done in at that point, and I wasn’t exactly full of energy, either. There really wasn’t much choice but to carry on at this stage, though – what with the closest car being at Kirkmicahel, then end point.
In saying this – yes, the path was awful to non-existent, but it did afford some stunning views at points, both towards the Glenshee range and back towards Blairgowrie and the lowlands, so it shouldn’t be seen as an entirely negative thing.
The next couple of miles were pretty straight forward, now that the path was becoming easier to walk. The only other comment I’d make at this stage is about Styles. They’re everywhere! When I was walking on the Saturday, and the first half of the Sunday, I was thinking that it might have made a good route for a mountain biker, but as we progressed, we came across more and more styles, all of the ‘step ladder’ variety, climbing over brick walls. The section near Ashintully Castle (also closed to the public, and clearly signposted not to enter their grounds… not friendly to walkers, I’m guessing!) was particularly bad for this. The path was again non-existent, but wasn’t challenging, as you could simply follow field margins at this stage. Every single field had one of these styles on it, though, and although we tried to avoid them, by using gates where possible, sometimes there was no choice, as the gates were padlocked, etc – needless to say, the styles were hard work.
After what had been a long, hard day’s walking, Kirkmichael eventually came into sight – the end was near!
Sadly, the final field down to Kirkmichael was another one where there was no path, and very little indication of exact route. The field was wet, boggy and full of tussocks. I think we both tripped a couple of times on that last downhill field.
Just before the end, yet another style before the final short path. This one was a more simple, lower one, but, sadly broken. Much as I’ve commented on my dislike of the large styles on this walk, I think it’s fair to say that in general, they were well maintained. There were a couple that could have been modernised, but they were robust – so, it was a bit of a shame to find a broken one right at the end. Sometimes that’s just the way of it, though.
Well, it was certainly an interesting walk. Would I do it again? Yes, definitely. The first day was spectacular in terms of scenery, and parts of the second day were amazing. I do feel the section between Lair and Kirkmichael lets the Mini Trail down quite a bit, though.
It’s not that the path is indistinct, or non-existent in places, it’s the fact that there’s little to no warning of it. When we got into Kirkmichael, the sign pointing back to Lair does warn you of it (shown below), but that was the only time I saw any warning. If I’d known to expect it from the outset, I wouldn’t have been nearly as disappointed by it.
If you go to the Official Cateran Trail Website, it advises the following about the mini trail:
The Route – Mini Trail
20mls/32km A weekend break/Cateran Trail circular sampler
Friday Night: Stay over at Kirkmicahel
Saturday: Kirkmichael – Enochdhu – Spittal of Glenshee (8mls/13km), stay over at the Spittal
Sunday: Spittal of Glenshee – Lair – Kirkmichael (12mls/19km)
No mention there about potential problems with the walk. Go into the FAQ on the site, and it advises the following:
Most of the route follows varied gentle terrain on good forest tracks and farm roads. In more open country you can encounter boggy ground and the need to cross a number of small burns.
Hills are moderate, the steepest slope being on the Glenshee section, with an ascent to 2130 ft (650m) before descending to the Spittal. In some places the Trail crosses fairly steep ladder stiles. These are easy to use but care is needed.
There are also some short sections on quiet country roads that PKCT has been working to reduce.
As the Mini Trail is supposed to be a ‘sampler’ of the main Cateran Trail, you’d expect it to have the same sort of terrain and restrictions. I couldn’t find anything, anywhere on the website to warn of the issues on the Lair – Kirkmichael section.
In saying that, though. I would definitely consider doing it again, and I’d definitely like to do the full Cateran Trail later in the year. I suspect the full trail will have significantly better paths than the Mini Trail. As long as you know what to expect, it’s an enjoyable two day walk.
It also gave me a chance to give a few bits of kit a proper test, and I’m happy with all of the things I’ve been using – which is good, since they’re all out of my own pocket! 😉 It also served as a good bit of training for the Speyside Way, which we’re doing in 3 weeks time. All in all, it was a good weekend, with only one small section to let it down.